So last week I posted a mixtape that I entered in a contest. Even before I made it, I knew I had no chance of winning. So why did I do it? Firstly, because I just wanted to make a damn mixtape. It's autumn, I wanted a new set of songs to pop on my iPod by default. Secondly, why did I enter the contest, even knowing that I was never going to win it? Because my entry singlehandedly doubled the number of women who had entered.
The results were announced yesterday - of course the winners and all the runners up (a total of 5 DJs) were all men. I commented on this, in a desultory passing way, on twitter: "Oh, look a bunch of men won the Phantasy Sound mix competition. Big surprise there!" I mean, it's simply statistics, isn't it? A competition where 20 people enter and only 2 of them are women. The winner is male. That's pretty predictable, just from a mathematical standpoint, isn't it?
So then I am told that I was "bitter" and that I could stand to be more gracious about losing (like the men who entered and didn't win) or something. This is the problem with making the personal political. Some observers will see only the personal, and never even notice the political.
Am I disappointed that I didn't win? I KNEW BEFORE I ENTERED THAT I WOULD NOT WIN. FFS, it's the first (and probably only) DJ competition I will ever enter. I am disappointed that only 10% of the entrants were female. (And it would have been 5% had I not entered.) I am disappointed that NO female DJs were even given honourable mention. I would be JUST AS DISAPPOINTED if the two female entrants had not included me - perhaps even *more* disappointed, because I can easily write off my own failure, but I cannot write off the systematic exclusion of mine own gender.
This is probably a good time to mention that I've been reading Pink Brain Blue Brain by Lise Eliot, which is all about how actually measurably quite tiny differences in ability between the genders are reenforced by cultural stereotypes into the kind of differences that gender essentialists like to claim are innate. It's actually been completely eye-opening (well, not in the way you'd think, because, seriously, I'm quite aware that "Girls Suck At Maths" is total bullshit) but more in what actually reinforces those stereotypes, and what can help young people to escape them.
People of either gender are often reluctant to enter into territory which has already been extensively colonised by members of the other gender. I call this "first girl in the room" syndrome, when dealing with my own experiences of working up the courage to enter a territory which has been solely male up until that point (be that guitar shop, recording studio, DJ booth... IT Department...) Some women actually get off on that idea of being the loophole woman. I'm not actually one of them. I don't want *me* as an individual to get in; I want *women* in general to get more opportunities. Eliot talks about a tipping point of about 25% - when the proportion of women (or men) in a field gets above that point "stereotyping declines and people begin to be judged by their actual abilities." More women entering these things means simply a better numerical chance of one of them winning.
Eliot talks about so much more which interests me - reminding me *why* it is harmful to bandy about negative stereotypes, and why language *matters*. (Going back to the subject of previous blogs...) She talks about the stereotype threat and studies which prove this to be a very real and powerful thing. Women perform *worse* at tasks which are stereotypically held to be "male" specialties *when* they are reminded of the stereotype before doing the task. The example is this: when a control group of men and women are given a basic maths test without being told what it is for, they perform equally well. When another group of men and women are given the *same* test - but after reading something which states that men typically do better at the test than women - men's scores are higher than in the control group, and women's scores are worse. That's right. REMINDING women of a stereotype that "girls suck at this" actually can cause them to suck. In fact, if the stereotype is persistent enough, such as the "girls suck at maths" one, simply reminding women of their gender is enough to trigger the stereotype threat.
And jeez, what reminds one more of one's own gender than being the *only* person (or only one of two people) that *is* that gender. Or being a hypothetical third woman who was thinking of entering that contest, and saw those odds and then saw those results and just thought "Nah, I won't bother." *That* thought is what genuinely upsets and angers me. It isn't whether you win or lose, it's enabling a fair playing field in the first place.